Veterinarians enter specialties as owners spend more on pets Sophisticated care offered to stand-ins for children

May 17, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

When young Trina's adult teeth started coming in crowded, Dee Hanna collared her little one and headed for a dentist who rTC could straighten teeth.

Now, hundreds of dollars later, Trina's smile is as lovely as any other 12-pound Norwich terrier's.

Veterinary medicine has moved beyond rabies shots and heartworm pills; it provides orthodontics for dogs, kidney dialysis for cats, pacemakers, chemotherapy, artificial hips -- even open-heart surgery.

"A lot of the things that are available to humans are available for pets," said Sharon Granskog, a spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Medical Association. "I think the pet is being more and more recognized as a member of the family and is being treated as one."

Before World War II, when more Americans lived on farms or in rural areas, barnyard animals were kept for practical purposes, and such fancy treatments were unheard of, said Bernard Rollin, a professor at the Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine and a trailblazer in the field of veterinary ethics.

Now, with a pet sharing the urban apartment and providing what may be the closest link to nature -- as well as being the closest thing to a child living at home -- spending thousands to save her life no longer seems far-fetched.

A 1995 report by the American Animal Hospital Association found that 70 percent of former and current pet owners surveyed thought of their pets as children. Asked what one companion they would want on a deserted island, 53 percent listed a dog or cat.

Such feelings have translated into a huge change in the way veterinarians do business and the amount of business.

While $6.9 billion was spent on dogs, cats and birds in 1991, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, pet owners spent $11.1 billion on health care in 1996, an increase of 61 percent.

Until 1951, the American Veterinary Medical Association did not recognize practice specialties.

Now, there are 20 board-certified vet specialties -- from anesthesiology to toxicology -- and the number of vets who have taken the additional schooling and examinations to become certified has grown to more than 5,600, up from 2,700 in 1984.

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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